Working on Kabi Kabi Country
  • Last updated:
  • 02 Dec 2022

The words ‘connections’ and ‘cultural’ are used in the above title to describe some of the unseen aspects of heritage such as the compelling need by Traditional Owners to care for country and be present on and have input into the control of the land and waters managed by the clans of their ancestors for 50 thousand years or more.

The inclusion of and the consultation with Traditional Owners, historically connected Aboriginal People, and South Sea Islander People in project planning and implementation is important. This includes proposals for environmental, cultural heritage, historical research, infrastructure and development projects. Such inclusion helps to exercise best practice guidelines through a number of national charters like those of the Australian Natural Heritage Charter, the Burra Charter (for cultural heritage) and the Human Rights Commission or UNESCO.

Traditional Aboriginal societies have sophisticated farming and land management practices enabling permanent and sustainable settlement on the east coast of Australia. Aboriginal pathways or trade routes connect clans through access to gathering places and shared economies providing opportunities to exchange technology and oral history. Much of the Australian landscape with its native vegetation and fauna has been shaped in its characteristics and evolution by having to adapt to the fire-stick of the Aboriginal farmer. This includes our local coastal heath lands or ‘wallum’, eucalypt forests, native grasslands and the animals and birds within.

All these activities over tens of thousands of years saw a carefully managed Aboriginal cultural landscape, marked extensively by physical cultural heritage. For example, villages of huts and camp ovens, grain and nut storage areas, fish traps, dams and hunting hides, mature trees scarred by canoe and implement making or as boundary markers, quarry and ochre sites, ceremonial or bora rings, rock art, rock carvings (petroglyphs) and large areas cleared for camping and gatherings. As well, many other features built on the land, include cairns of stone, and arrangements of stone or shell used in ceremonies, to mark the ownership of a place or its restricted access. Estuaries were and are lined with hills and acres of Aboriginal shell or kitchen middens growing in magnitude over thousands of years as oysters, shellfish and other bush foods were consumed by people with the remains left in piles, year in and year out. Such imposing features of shell middens provided Traditional People with landscape markers to navigate by when travelling on bark canoes along our local rivers.

Before the 1830’s the Sunshine Coast had what other places like Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory still has, thousands of heritage sites with a living traditional culture sustained by a rich biodiversity. It is unfortunate that through the process of colonisation the Sunshine Coast, South East Queensland and across Australia, many of the sites described in the above were removed or destroyed, much deliberately so as to remove the reminders and evidence of the sovereignty and legacy of the local Aboriginal clans.

While it may seem much has been lost, this situation now places more significance on the remaining or unseen (intangible) heritage of the Sunshine Coast, such as places that invoke stories and memories, places of settlement and gathering areas, camp sites and the remaining artefact, scar tree and shell midden sites. It may also mean that artefact collections, historical records (in both public and private collections) and the oral histories of Traditional Owners and knowledge holders (past and present) are now that much more important or significant in their values and the roles they play for the wider community.

We all need to consider and proactively conserve the physical and unseen cultural heritage. Ultimately, this helps to provide tangible experiences, connections, a sense of identity and belonging with the landscapes and waterways along the Sunshine Coast. Please consider and act on this when your organisation next embarks upon the planning process for a new project site. It is the way of best practice.

If you have an interest in Indigenous land management, cultural heritage or have encountered local Aboriginal sites, artefacts or story places which you would like to share, please contact Traditional Owners, Kerry Jones, MS 0401 205 367, or Bridgette Davis, MS 0435 918 764, .

Article by Kerry Jones, Arnold Jones, Helen Jones, Bridgette Davis, Sean Fleischfresser, Anne Miller, Loretta Algar and Genevieve Jones - Bunya Bunya Aboriginal Corporation.